Blu-Ray Review- Madhouse
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Street Date: July 21st 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 89 Minutes
Back in 1974, American International Pictures and Amicus Productions put in one last ditch effort to capitalize on the Gothic Horror genre they had so admirably brought to life on the silver screen with Madhouse starring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. Though I personally adore the film (as many other Price fans do), Madhouse failed to impress at the box office, and AIP subsequently buried the genre. It’s a shame, because the film itself is utterly delightful for Horror fans. Not only because of the powerful onscreen presence of Lee and Cushing, but with standout sets, makeup, and costume design partnered with a unique macabre story that isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at the horror genre and legendary careers of its stars.
In Madhouse, Vincent Price portrays Horror star Paul Toombes, an actor who is celebrating the release of his fifth film in the “Dr. Death” series at his private mansion. Donning a black cape, black fedora, and skeleton-like makeup, his character has terrified audiences on screen for decades. The release party also serves as an engagement announcement for Toombes, who is happy as can be with his beautiful fiancée Ellen at his side. Soon after the couple’s happy news is announced, a sleazy adult film producer informs Paul that Allen used to be in his films. A distraught and angry Paul disappears at the party, while Ellen is murdered by a shadowy figure that looks very similar to “Dr. Death.” The murder goes unsolved, and a heartbroken Paul’s life and career begin to fall apart.
Fast forward to several years later, and Paul is called to London by his best friend Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing) to star in a brand new television series that will bring his character Dr. Death back to life for Horror fans. Production on the show begins, but the shadowy figure that murdered Ellen years prior is back with a vengeance! One by one, those around Paul soon begin to fall victim to a real-life “Dr. Death.”
Regular readers of the site know of my affection for Mr. Vincent Price, and Madhouse happens to be one of my personal favorites of his. The visual look of Dr. Death himself remains very sinister, and famously made for a legendary cover page for Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. The movie itself is very suspenseful, with fantastic performances from everyone involved, but especially memorable is the chemistry between Price and Cushing. The story keeps the viewer guessing throughout, with a myriad of possibilities regarding the killer’s identity. Madhouse is a delightful little Horror treat; a self-aware gothic production that continues to entertain over forty years later. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t flock to see the film back then, but luckily, Madhouse is still fondly remembered enough to garner a solid Blu-Ray release from Kino Lorber.
Kino Lorber delivers Madhouse onto Blu-Ray with a fine high definition transfer that sports a period authentic color palette, plenty of crisp detail in facial features and clothing, and a generally clean print. There are occasional speckles, light damage, and noise, but those moments are few and far between. Madhouse looks better than it ever has on home video, and I’m very pleased with the results of Kino’s efforts here.
Unfortunately this is the one area of Kino’s Blu-Ray release where fans may be disappointed. There is an audio-sync issue that persists throughout the entirety of the film. Lips move before the dialogue audio kicks in, sometimes after, with only a few select scenes that seem to be correctly synced. Video issues can sometimes be easy to overlook, but unfortunately audio sync problems are so noticeable and distracting that fans may feel a little let down. Kino Lorber is aware of the issue and is currently investigating the error. At the time this review is being written, we’re waiting to hear back regarding the results of their investigation (i.e. possible replacement discs). Besides this issue, the audio itself sounds great, with dialogue front and center and plenty of spooky sound effects and score components sounding pristine in HD.
Kino Lorber has given Madhouse a solid selection of bonus features to accompany this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary – Film Historian David Del Valle discusses the troubled production of the film, Vincent Price’s performance, and some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits that viewers will surely enjoy.
- The Revenge of Dr. Death: Making Madhouse– This nearly 11 minute featurette on the making of the film is short but exceptionally entertaining for fans of the film (and genre)! Beginning with American International Pictures and Amicus’ troubled pre-production process (where the initial adapted screenplay was flat-out refused by Vincent Price) to various participants’ thoughts on the last “hurrah” of the Gothic genre that Hammer Films and AIP helped to create, there is plenty for aficionados to enjoy here.
- Madhouse Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just under two minutes and is utterly delightful for fans of the film. From the scrolling warning that opens the trailer to the cheesy voice-over, this is fantastic stuff!
- Tales of Terror Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for another recent Kino Lorber release, Tales of Terror, is also quite a bit of fun. The trailer unfolds in typical AIP fashion with some of the standout scenes from the film complete with voiceover narration and exaggerated graphics work.
This Blu-Ray edition from Kino Lorber (Studio Classics line) features the utterly amazing original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover. From Dr. Death’s face paint to the bloody font design and gothic atmosphere, it’s everything a classic Horror fan could ask for. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the Blu-Ray disc which also features the stylish cover design.
Madhouse remains one of my personal favorite Vincent Price films. The chemistry between Price and Cushing is fantastic and the story keeps the viewer guessing throughout; with a myriad of possibilities regarding the killer’s identity. Madhouse is a delightful little Horror treat; a self-aware gothic production that continues to entertain over forty years later. The Blu-Ray edition from Kino Lorber features a fine transfer that remains true to the film source and a nice selection of bonus material. The Revenge of Dr. Death featurette, though short, is fascinating for fans of the film and genre. The one disappointing factor on this edition is the audio sync issue that unfortunately affects most of the film. Kino has promised fans that it’s looking into the issue, so hopefully a replacement program will be made available shortly. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t flock to see the film back in 1974, but luckily, Madhouse is still fondly remembered enough to garner a solid Blu-Ray release and comes highly recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Squirm
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: October 28th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
I’m not ashamed to admit that the first time I saw Squirm was on the infamous Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. Growing up in Minnesota in the 1990’s, MST3K introduced me to many horror, cult, and science fiction titles that I may otherwise have never seen. And like many of those films that were so hilariously “riffed” on the show, I would come to appreciate Squirm with and without the riffing. It may not be the most polished Horror production, but it’s damn creepy and certainly charming with its low budget southern atmosphere.
In Squirm, Don Scardino plays Mick, a young man on his way to Fly Creek, Georgia when the bus that carries him can go no further due to the flooding in the area, a result of a recent thunderstorm. Mick makes his way through the swampy terrain on foot to see his darling girlfriend Geri (Patricia Pearcy), intending to stay awhile with her family as he gets to know Fly Creek and it’s stand-offish inhabitants a little better. Little does Mick know that because the power lines were knocked down in the recent storm, the resulting electricity has given the worms in the soil super strength and general ferocity, and soon the townsfolk are up to their elbows in mutant creepy crawlies of all shapes and sizes.
Corpses begin to appear around town with their flesh ripped directly from the bone, worms slither out of showerheads and through people’s faces, among other creepy shenanigans. With little help from the local Sheriff (Peter MacLean) and time running out, Mick and Geri launch their own investigation into why the worms have invaded their town and concoct a plan to stop them.
Revisiting Squirm after many years was a delight in more ways than one. Sure, the film has the B movie stamp written all over it, with a generally low budget feel, some shoddy editing, and supporting players that seem to have been cast right out of the produce section at the Piggly Wiggly. But this film has oodles of charm! The main cast truly gives it their all, making their down-home characters quite believable in an otherwise ridiculous scenario. The gross-out effects from a then relatively unknown Rick Baker are a delight as well, providing plenty of barf bag moments for viewers (especially if you’re sensitive to our slithery soil dwelling friends). Squirm fits right in as part of Scream Factory’s ever-growing line of Horror treats, and I enjoyed revisiting the film on this brand new Blu-Ray edition.
It’s safe to say that you’re going to be quite astonished at how incredibly good Squirm looks on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory. Going in, especially with its low budget nature, I prepared myself for a likely rough-looking presentation, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This High Definition viewing experience provides one of the cleanest transfers of a low-budget Horror film I’ve ever seen on the format. The print provides authentic natural film grain that is ever present and without any signs of digital manipulation. Colors look period-accurate and maintain stability throughout, fine object detail is shockingly pristine in most cases, and there is nary a scratch or blemish to be seen. It’s incredible, and slightly fascinating as to how the hell this looks so good on Blu-Ray.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is more in line with my expectations going in, but that’s not to say it’s a disappointment in the slightest. Dialogue is always crystal clear and the track has some oomph thanks to the HD upgrade. The score and background effects balance is slightly limited, sometimes wavering in its ability to present the audio without a “tinny” or ringing dynamic attached. Given the nature of the film, it really does sound just fine, and any limitations are likely the result of the original audio source.
Scream Factory has given Squirm the Collector’s Edition treatment with some great bonus features for Horror fans. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Jeff Lieberman– Director Jeff Lieberman gives an in-depth and focused commentary here, providing an insightful listening experience for fans of the film. In between discussing the cast, special effects, and filmmaking techniques, Jeff is pretty funny as he naturally reacts to scenes from the film (including goofs, plot logic, etc.). Jeff talking about calling into a local television station that chose to play Squirm in black and white is especially fun, as he called not to complain but to praise them because he loved how the film looked! This is an insanely fun commentary to listen to.
- Digging In: The Making of Squirm- Lasting roughly 33 minutes, this brand new documentary from Aine Leicht and the folks at Shout! Factory provides fans of the film with plenty of fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, production details, and fun memories from the cast and crew. Director Jeff Lieberman and actor Don Scardino in particular are often hilarious to listen to, with more than a handful of funny anecdotes to share. I especially enjoyed the discussion about using the locals for supporting roles in the film. Once again Leicht and company have put together a well edited and insightful documentary for fans! Great stuff!
- Eureka! With Jeff Lieberman- Running just over 7 minutes, this is yet another fun featurette (once again from Leicht & Shout!) where Director Jeff Lieberman leaves the interview chair and brings us (quite literally) to the home he lived in when he came up with the idea for Squirm. It was nice to hear not only about the films inception, but about Lieberman’s beginnings in the industry.
- Original Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for Squirm runs just under two minutes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you got to love those voice overs!
- TV Spot- This vintage television spot runs under a minute and gives viewers a pretty good idea of what they’re in for.
- Radio Spot- This actual radio spot from the theatrical promotion runs just over a minute and is very effective!
- Still Gallery- This still gallery plays automatically when selected and features some fantastic color and black and white photographs from the making of the film.
- More from Scream Factory- Vintage trailers for other titles in the Scream Factory line are presented here including Pumpkinhead, Motel Hell, and The Beast Within.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features a newly commissioned slip-cover design from Artist Paul Shipper, who also recently worked on their Halloween Complete Collection. The coloring is gritty and perfect, with Roger’s worm-invaded face and Geri’s half naked shower surprise, the selected moments he chose to portray suit the film nicely. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the Blu-Ray disc as well as the amazing original theatrical “skull” poster design available as a reversible wrap.
Squirm on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory is creepy, crawly, High Definition gross-out fun! Though I first saw the film as a kid when it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the film has its charms with or without the riff-track. Though the B-movie creature feature clearly shows its production budget, the then-amateur cast gives it their all, and the gross-out effects from Rick Baker provide for plenty of barf bag fun. I’m still quite shocked at how incredibly good Squirm looks on this brand new Blu-Ray transfer as well, with nary a blemish to be found and an audio track that works just fine. The special features on this Collector’s Edition are once again a standout aspect, especially with the wonderfully detailed and entertaining Digging In: The Making of Squirm documentary. Squirm fits right in as part of Scream Factory’s ever-growing line of Horror treats, and I enjoyed revisiting the film on this brand new Blu-Ray edition. Recommended!